Courage Award (new award)
Recovering from stroke can be an uphill battle. New to 2016, the Courage Award recognises the indomitable courage and hope shown by survivors and carers in facing stroke recovery. This category is open to survivors and carers and celebrates individual recovery and resilience.
Sarah-Jane Gapp – a Courage winner
Logan City resident, Sarah-Jane Gapp had a job she loved, was living independently and had a future mapped out of study, work, marriage and children.
But a month after her 21st birthday, Sarah-Jane suffered a rare, catastrophic brain stem stroke. Misdiagnosis and an eight hour delay in treatment left her trapped inside her own body, unable to move or speak.. Ventilated, immobile, peg-fed, and unable to swallow, Sarah’s prognosis was grim.
Refusing to give in, Sarah fought hard to make small gains each day. After six months in intensive care and then another 15 months in the respiratory ward, Sarah eventually returned to live with her mother as her full-time carer in 2010. Over time, with humor and gradual acceptance, Sarah re-evaluated her life, set new goals and continually strives to achieve them.
Despite losing her physical independence, Sarah’s keen mind and lively sharp wit drives her to raise awareness about stroke so others don’t have to endure what she does. Keen to return to study, Sarah wants to establish an online counselling service to help others trapped at home or in their bodies and write a book about her experiences. This brave young woman’s story will no doubt help other stroke survivors in their recovery journey.
Carol Fuller – a Courage finalist
Adelaide resident Carol Fuller’s life changed dramatically when her husband Clive had a massive stroke at just 50 years.
The severe and, at times, all-consuming nature of Clive’s condition following his stroke severely impacted both their lives.
Carol found herself juggling the roles of wife, mother, carer and advocate. She learnt to live from one changing day to the next. Carol fought daily to ensure Clive received everything available to help him live a life of quality and dignity. She also advocated to government for policy changes to prevent Clive and other stroke survivors from falling through the cracks in the health system.
Carol wrote a book about their experiences which she hopes to publish shortly to encourage and help others in their stroke journey. Her family and friends say Carol is a courageous woman and an inspiration, and being recognised as a finalist is a lovely tribute to her life with Clive, who sadly passed away in 2012.
Cheryl Chhin – a Courage finalist
At 33 years old, Cheryl suffered a devastating blood clot stroke at the base of her skull. Yet not even a major stroke could stop Cheryl from busting out the dance moves at her wedding eight months later.
A child-care worker and talented cook, Cheryl was determined to get back on her feet and do the things she loved.
Prior to her stroke, Cheryl, her fiancé, Peter, and their five children led a busy family life, juggling football and netball games, gymnastic recitals, school and work commitments.
Although Cheryl lost her ability to speak, eat, walk, smile and move her right side, she set herself new recovery goals each day. When Cheryl got her driving licence back she was so proud. Despite her challenges, Cheryl managed to stay positive throughout her recovery.
Her family and friends say Cheryl’s a SUPER WOMAN, a real fighter and an inspiration to many.
Jean Jordan – a Courage finalist
In 2012 Townsville resident, Jean Jordan was in a horrific car accident that left her with fractures to her neck, ribs and hand. 10 days later, Jean suffered a stroke that paralysed her right side, left her without speech and impaired her memory.
After moving into a residential aged care facility at the young age of 54, Jean’s greatest wish was to live independently with her cat, Missy Moo.
Jean never gave up on her dream and worked relentlessly to get back home. Jean faced many people who told her she would never be able to live on her own, but this only made her more determined to succeed.
Jean learned to talk, walk, dress and shower herself, go shopping and socialise with friends and family. She even learned to crochet left handed, making her first teddy bear!
Finally, after nearly two and a half years of rehabilitation, Jean moved into a unit by herself with Missy Moo. Despite ongoing difficulties, Jean has written ‘My Stroke Journey’ to help others recovering from stroke. Jean wants to encourage stroke survivors to believe in themselves and that with hard work, you can achieve your dreams.
Jo Pittwood – a Courage finalist
While pregnant with her third child, Jo Pittwood had a funny turn.
After her son, George was born, Jo suffered a few more episodes which she later found out were Trans Ischaemic Attacks. Following an MRI scan, Jo was diagnosed with Moyamoya, a rare progressive disease caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. Due to having blocked arteries, people with Moyamoya are at high risk of having multiple strokes.
Jo was immediately put on stroke prevention medication but a few days after surgery in September 2012, she suffered a major stroke. Despite some speech deficits and right sided weakness, Jo was determined to get back to her normal daily activities.
After her diagnosis, Jo looked around for any local Moyamoya support groups and finding none, she started her own Facebook group. A passionate and committed advocate, Jo is determined to support other Australians dealing with Moyamoya disease, who are all living with the knowledge they are at high risk of having a stroke, every day of their lives.
In March 2014, Jo started a Bachelor of Nursing degree at Deakin University Geelong to pursue her interest in caring for others. Jo’s life is extremely busy, but she does an excellent job at balancing her study commitments with her equally demanding family life. All while managing an online support group for people who live with Moyamoya disease.
Read our interview with Jo Pittwood
Paul Pollock – a Courage finalist
Learning how to swallow, eat and walk again is something that most adults never have to think about.
For 42 year old Werribee resident, Paul Pollock, it became an awful reality when he suffered a severe stroke in May 2013.
That day was the start of a 14-month journey of recovery so remarkable that it brought tears to some of the medical staff treating him.
Paul’s stroke was caused by a blood clot that blocked a blood vessel in his brain. He was told the damage to his body was so great that he might never be able to eat or walk without assistance.
But Paul set out to disprove the worst fears about his condition.
Hard work and perseverance saw Paul slowly learn to swallow and to walk again. When he jogged for the first time, Paul says his physiotherapist cried from happiness.
Now back home living with his brother, Paul is able to feed, look after himself and walk unaided.
Paul regained his driver’s licence and can attend his beloved horse races. Best of all, he can feed his faithful dog Flash, a blue heeler, without any help.
His friends and family say watching Paul strive to get stronger over the past couple of years has often brought tears to their eyes. Paul says the support of his family and friends helped him stay motivated when things seemed impossible during his recovery.
Paul continues to fight hard to get his life back after stroke.
Rob Green – a Courage finalist
During his thirty year career as an emergency paramedic, Robert Green didn’t let stroke hold him back from achieving his dreams.
Just prior to his marriage in 1984, Robert suffered a stroke which partially affected his right arm and leg, and some fine motor skills. But that didn’t stop him. Initially it was very difficult but as Robert was 29 years old and fit, he completely got over it.
Passing the medical and physical tests for pre-employment, Robert qualified as a paramedic in 1990. Yet less than two years later he suffered his second stroke. Robert never complained and maintained good humour and dedication to his work despite his illness. With his second and later third strokes, Robert became gradually more affected, but kept up his career as a paramedic where he could use his knowledge of stroke to help people
Always fit and active, Robert became a passionate cyclist and routinely did physiotherapy to maintain his physicality.
Robert’s great strength and resilience earned him the enormous respect of his peers. They say Robert always goes above and beyond in his care and compassion for his patients, never letting the impact of his stroke impede his work. This year he retires from work and his colleagues say they couldn’t have had a more reliable and capable work partner.
Toni Withiel – a Courage finalist
Toni Withiel knows what it’s like to be a vibrant young person on the brink of life and then suddenly lose everything in the blink of an eye.
Working part-time at a coffee shop, Toni was thrilled she’d been accepted into the honours program in psychology at Monash University.
But three weeks before her 21st birthday in 2011, Toni had a massive stroke caused by a blood clot. Home alone at the time, she was unable to crawl to the phone to get help.
From the get go, Toni gritted her teeth and showed a steely determination that belied her young age. Toni needed rehab to learn to walk, use her right arm and fingers again. Instead of being out having fun like young people her age, Toni would sit at the kitchen table, gritting her teeth, willing her fingers to pick up cards, pins, a fork…anything.
Taking a year off University following her stroke, Toni returned to work in the coffee shop, which helped hugely with her hand rehabilitation. Despite struggling with fatigue, Toni returned to complete her honours degree in two years. During this time she also became a Lifeline counsellor, keen to give back.
Now, Toni is almost finished her doctorate in clinical neuropsychology at Monash University, researching ways to help stroke survivors improve their memory.
Toni has come full circle - from being a stroke victim to helping others who have had strokes.
Read our interview with Toni Withiel
Tony Howe – a Courage finalist
Hobart resident, Tony Howe had a fulfilling career as a social worker, when tragedy stuck.
In late 2009, Tony suffered a stroke. And now as a result, he suffers from partial loss of the vision field in each eye (hemianopia), and ongoing challenges with his memory and concentration.
But nothing stops Tony. He regularly volunteers with refugees and is a Volunteer Mental Health Officer Visitor to hospitals and other institutions.
Since his stroke, Tony’s passion for spreading the stroke prevention message knows no bounds. For the past few years he has been involved with the Stroke Foundation, working with their stroke survivors support group and singing group. Tony even brought twenty of his African drums to the annual stroke survivor and carer's Christmas luncheons for others to learn and play. This year, Tony decided to become a StrokeSafe Ambassador and gives regular talks to community and other groups.
But last year, Tony surmounted several personal challenges. After being told he’d never make it, Tony completed the gruelling uphill 21 kilometre Point to Pinnacle charity run from Wrestpoint Casino to the top of Mt Wellington.
And despite being told he would be incapable of study due to his stroke deficits, Tony enrolled in a Professional Honours course in Human Services and achieved a high distinction in his first class. Now he is well on his way to completing his undergraduate studies.
Tony is an amazing example of courage in the face of adversity. Tony’s positive attitude is an inspiration to other stroke survivors. Tony’s tag line on all his emails and texts aptly sums up his approach - “celebrate life”.
Wendy Corp – a Courage finalist
Before her sudden stroke, Wendy was a vibrant 60 year old with a rewarding career as a theatre nurse. She was looking forward to playing more golf and enjoying an active retirement with devoted husband Paul. Then without warning, those dreams were shattered.
In 2003, a massive stroke instantly robbed Wendy of her communication skills and left her with severe physical disability. Instead of being able to enjoy their retirement, Wendy and Paul were faced with a long and painful struggle with stroke. Wendy became aphasic which means her speech and communication skills were lost.
At the time, Wendy received inadequate rehabilitation and became depressed. But a breakthrough came when she discovered the Aphasia speech therapy clinic at the University of Queensland.
Wendy's never give up attitude to overcoming her disabilities is humbling. Although Wendy is confined to a wheelchair and now needs help with most daily tasks from her husband, Paul, they both are passionate advocates of the Australian Aphasia Association.
Wendy is the driving force behind the Association, and together she and Paul have actively promoted aphasia groups in their region. As well, Wendy has participated in countless presentations to hospitals, charity groups, etc to relate her story and increase community awareness of stroke and aphasia. sIn 2016, they joined other stroke advocates that travelled to Canberra with the Stroke Foundation to call on the Government to commit funding to urgently address dangerous gaps in treatment and care.
In spite of the daily challenges that Wendy faces, she makes herself available for anything. Truly charismatic, Wendy captures attention and stirs the emotions of everyone who meets her. Wendy displays true courage in championing for better outcomes for stroke and aphasia survivors.